It was in 1963 when most Americans got their first look at the Suzuki nameplate. But, it wasn’t on a car. It was on the gas tank of a motorcycle. But the bikes were such a big success here that soon suzuki set their sights on four wheels. And in 1985 they entered the U.S. auto market, where they quickly earned a reputation for making dependable and affordable small cars and tough little sport-utes. Why their V-6 Grand Vitara even earned our MotorWeek Drivers’ Choice Award. Well, now success has emboldened suzuki to try for the really big time ö family- size sport-utes. And the gleam in their eye this time is called XL-7.
Actually, its full name is the 2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7. But it’s much more than the vehicle that we’ve known as the Grand Vitara mini-ute for the last two years, 19.1-inches more to be exact, with over a foot of that being wheelbase, now measuring 110.2-inches. Which is 4.3-inches longer than that of the mid-size Jeep Grand Cherokee. Yet the XL-7 retains the regular Grand Vitara’s parking-lot-friendly 70.1-inch width.
This translates into a front cockpit with essentially the same dimensions as that of its shorter sibling, but with a higher level of standard features. Including air conditioning, cruise control, tilt wheel, and a full complement of power accessories.
Front seating is standard Grand Vitara too. They’re well padded, but too short for folks with long thighs. They face a set of large, clear gauges and an attractive dash. But we would swap positions for the stereo and vent modules, whose slide controls do seem a little dated.
Things are much more up to date in the rear seat, however. The longer wheelbase increases leg room by a full 6-inches. And the split bench seat can slide forward to make more room for third seat passengers. That’s right, third seat, a split folding bench. It’s only big enough for kids, but it’s also the only one available in the compact SUV segment. With the third row seat in place there’s only 6.6 cubic feet of cargo space. But flip it down, and it expands to 37 cubic feet, albeit with a sloping floor. Flip the second row down, and you get 73 cubic-feet. We’ll pass, however, on the side-opening rear door, that makes curb-side loading difficult.
To haul all this around, Suzuki has equipped the XL7 with a standard 2.7-liter V6 engine. A larger version of the Grand Vitara’s V6, this dual-overhead-cam, 24-valve power-plant makes 170 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. XL-7 transmissions include a 5-speed manual and a 4-speed automatic. And it’s available with a rugged, shift on the fly, part-time 4-wheel-drive system. It includes low range, something that most compact competitors don’t offer.
The body-on-frame XL7 also has 7-inches of ground clearance, making it a real off- roader, not a boxy all-wheel-drive car. And one that gets down the road quite well, too. With an automatic, 0 to 60 takes 9.4 seconds. With a 1/4 mile time of 17.1 seconds at 78 miles-per-hour.
Compared to the original Grand Vitara V-6, the XL-7’s off-line grunt is much improved. The gearing seems perfect to use every ounce of smooth power, and use it well enough to trailer tow 3,000 pounds. The XL-7 can also be towed safely behind a motor home.
Fuel use for our 4-wheel-drive automatic XL-7 is EPA estimated at 17 city/20 highway. We averaged 18 miles-per-gallon in mixed driving. No surprises here.
If not surprised, we were pleased with stops. Average distance from 60 was an arrow straight 111 feet. Our Touring-grade XL-7 included standard ABS front discs and rear drums. Both nose dive and pedal feedback were moderate.
In daily driving, the XL-7 is also quite easy to live with. The ride is quite comfortable, even on choppy roads. While the front MacPherson strut, and rear 5-link solid-axle suspension, give it the same nimble feel as its car-based Honda and Toyota competitors.
But while it may offer a lot more standard features too, it’s just as easy to pay for. Base price for a 2-wheel-drive Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7 is $20,299. If you need 4-wheel-drive, the price rises to $21,499. Now options and plusher trim will push prices up from there, but that’s a remarkably low entry cost for a V6 powered, body-on-frame sport-ute. Especially one that offers third row seating.
As our friends at AMI Auto World Weekly said, “The only problem is that those (other seven passenger) vehicles cost real bucks. The less expensive SUVs, with sticker prices under $25,000, still carry only five passengers. That is, until now.”
The 2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7 represents another big step forward for a company that first caught the attention of American buyers with its tiny two-wheelers. And as Suzuki moves into the mainstream family SUV segment, proves that in no small way it has what it takes to play in the big four-wheel leagues.
Engine: 2.7-Liter V6
Torque: 178 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.4 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17.1 Seconds @ 78 MPH
60-0 MPH: 111 Feet
EPA Mileage: 17 MPG City 20 MPG Highway